Dueling Babkas: Litvish and Galitzianer

Lithuanian Babka

Lithuanian Babka

Disclaimer: The title of this post is kind of a joke. As far as I know, there is no Litvish/Galitzianer babka dichotomy. I only gave this post its title because Maggie Glezer calls her babka Lithuanian Babka and I used an alternate filling for half of the dough to make a different kind of babka. The recipe for that alternate filling came from my grandmother (Z”L), and that side of my family is Galitzianer. But, my grandmother had used the filling in what she and her friends just called coffeecake, not Galitzianer Babka.

It all started with me wanting to make a yeast bread with cardamom, chocolate, and coffee flavors. The obvious approach was babka with cardamom in the dough and a chocolate-coffee filling.

Maggie Glezer has an interesting recipe for Lithuanian Babka in A Blessing of Bread that always appealed to me. The recipe comes from her husband’s grandmother. What is interesting about this babka is that it is formed into an elaborate round twist instead of the usual loaf shape.

Glezer’s recipe makes two babka loaves (total flour 26.5 ounces, or 13.25 ounce flour per loaf). I more or less followed Glezer’s filling recipe for one babka and experimented with my (Galitzianer) grandmother’s yeast coffee cake filling for the other.

Galitzianer Babka Filling Babka With the Meringue Filling

Lithuanian Filling

Lithuanian Filling

Some people have complained that the Glezer babka recipe is too sweet, but it worked perfectly for me. Partly, this is because I like a sweet babka with lots of filling. Partly, this is because I did not follow the recipe exactly.

For the dough, I used oil instead of margarine or butter and substituted a teaspoon of cardamom for the freshly ground cinnamon. I made half the filling recipe because I was only using it for half the dough.

Here is what I used as a filling for one babka loaf : scant 1/2 cup sugar, five hugely heaping teaspoons of Dutch-process cocoa (Callebaut) (to more or less equal 3 Tbl. cocoa, but maybe it was more like 4 Tbl.), a generous teaspoon or so of coffee powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. cardamom, and four capfuls of corn oil (to equal 4 Tbl.).

After spreading this filling on the dough, I sprinkled over a few chocolate chips, some chopped Callebaut 60/40 bittersweet chocolate, a few Zante currants, and some walnuts (Just enough of these ingredients to scatter across the filling).

For the other bread, I made a meringue filling for yeast coffeecake that my grandmother taught me. You make a meringue with 3 egg whites and 1/2 cup of sugar. You can mix in some chopped nuts before spreading it on the dough. After spreading it on the dough, you sprinkle over chopped chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, and chopped nuts, if you have not already added them.

The Glezer recipe calls for 3 yolks in the dough, which gave me just the right amount of whites.  I mixed a teaspoon of coffee powder into the meringue, along with a heaping cup of blanched almond meal. After spreading it on the dough, I sprinkled over some espresso flavored mini-chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips, and chopped Callebaut 60/40 bittersweet chocolate.

close-up pf Galitzianer filling

close-up of meringue filling

Here is the thing about the meringue filling. It looks fluffy and thick when you spread it on the dough, but it dissolves into the dough as it bakes, leaving just a residual moistness and a sticky sweetness that holds together add in like chopped nuts and raisins. It functions kind of like apricot jam in rugelach, but with a more neutral taste. The mere teaspoon of coffee powder and blanched almonds were insufficient for creating a strongly colored and flavored filling. Once the meringue melted into the dough, the filling all but disappeared color and flavor-wise.  I needed to add more nuts, raisins, and chopped chocolate. Adding cocoa powder would have helped, too.

Oddly, the Lithuanian babka with the cocoa filling had a stronger coffee flavor, even though both babkas had the same amount of coffee powder added. You would think that the cocoa powder would overwhelm the coffee flavor, but it brought it out instead. So, the solution is either more coffee powder in the meringue filling, or some cocoa powder, or both. And the traditional chopped walnuts are a better choice here than blanched almonds, too, unless the almond flavor is amplified with almond extract.

In the end, I preferred the Lithuanian Babka cocoa filling, but only because I had been too shy about flavoring the meringue filling. Part of the reason I did not add in enough nuts, chopped chocolate, etc. was because the meringue was too thick for one babka. Three egg whites makes enough meringue to fill two babkas. The solution is a thinner layer of meringue (with finely chopped or ground nuts, coffee powder, cinnamon, and cocoa mixed in) and lots of nuts, raisins, and chopped chocolate sprinkled over.

It is also important to roll the dough thin so that you have thin layers of dough and filling. Glezer’s shaping technique for the babka worked wonderfully, although I was not able to get as gorgeous looking a loaf as I would have liked. Practice is probably the key here.

Babka with Meringue Filling

Babka with Meringue Filling

Glezer gives the option of baking the loaves in an 8″ or 10″ pan. I baked the loaf  with the meringue filling in a 9″ pan and the loaf with the cocoa filling in a 10″ pan. The larger pan made for a much flatter loaf, of course. I’m not sure which I prefer. The flatter loaf is more danish-like. The higher loaf makes slices more like babka from the bakery.

Lithuanian Babka

Lithuanian Babka

They way that the loaf is shaped is interesting. You roll out an 18″ circle and cut it in half. Each half is spread with filling (leaving a half inch border all around) and rolled up from the curved side towards the flat side (the reverse of how you roll up rugelach or croissants). The resulting log of dough is folded in half and twisted. The second half of the dough is shaped the same way. Now you have two twists which wrap around each other in the pan.

Lithuanian Babka in 10 inch pan

Lithuanian Babka in 10 inch pan

Babka rising in 9 inch pan

Babka rising in 9 inch pan

One more observation. The babka cooks for about an hour at a fairly low temperature of 300 degrees. I think this is a bit drying, although I suspect the purpose is to preserve the shape and prevent the loaves from splitting open as they bake. Glezer also recommends erring on the side of overproofing rather than underproofing for the same reason.
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18 Responses to “Dueling Babkas: Litvish and Galitzianer”

  1. Susan/Wild Yeast Says:

    I just really need to make a babka. The meringue filling sounds wonderful (well, they both do, actually)! Just beautiful.

  2. pragmaticattic Says:

    Thanks Susan!

  3. YeastSpotting July 24, 2009 | Wild Yeast Says:

    […] Babka […]

  4. Madam Chow Says:

    That meringue filling sounds fabulous! I’ve been meaning to make babka for a while now, and have several recipes bookmarked, including Glezer’s. Now I’ll bookmark this post, and try to bake it sooner rather than later!

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Thanks Madam Chow. If you make the meringue filling, remember to add lots of chocolate and nuts and raisins. If you want to go with the ground almonds, I would add in a little almond extract. I think that 3 egg whites is enough meringue for filling both babkas.

  5. Hillary Says:

    Thanks for the babka lesson! Love this!

  6. Richa Says:

    Another addition to my to-do list.. I have not tasted a Babka before, but the chocolate-coffee-cardamom are calling out to me!! Your babka looks amazing! Keep posting!!

  7. Mimi Says:

    The fillings for you babkas sound so decadent. I wish I could have been there to smell them baking. Ah well. When I am finally done with weight watchers, I’ll have to try your recipes!!

  8. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella Says:

    As someone that rarely sees babka at bakeries here but has always been fascinated by it ever since Seinfeld, these look delicious! I think I’d prefer the first one as sweet and with a lot of filling sounds great and I like your modifications :)

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Thanks Lorraine. Does this mean that you think that “the chocolate babka is the better babka” like Elaine?

  9. Stefanie Says:

    The Lithuanian Babka would be a perfect treat for my colleagues. It looks so delicious!
    With all this great breads make with recipe out of “A Blessing of Bread” I see lately, this book is now on top of my wishlist :-D

  10. Hefe und mehr » Blog Archive » Bread Baking Day #22: Round-up Says:

    […] Babka […]

  11. lisamichele Says:

    I have never baked a Babka before, and I need to knock myself on the head for not doing so yet, especially after seeing yours! I saw your photo of it in the BBD#22 roundup and was instantly drawn (memories of Seinfeld..Chocolate always trumps Cinnamon..lol). However, meringue filled Babka is so intriguing to me – I know I’ll have to try that one! Beautiful Babka’s and photos of it!

  12. pragmaticattic Says:

    Thanks Lisa, but remember the meringue melts into the dough . . . And by the way, your chocolate swirl challah is so babka-ish, it is like you already babka-ed.

  13. sara Says:

    Anytime I see babka, I always think of the famous Seinfeld episode. Babka really is so delicious, I need to make some soon.

  14. Sara Bram Says:

    Thanks for the tips. I was trying to find info on how to do a large round chocolate babka. Now that I see how yors is made, it will definately help with my construction. Good Shabbos!

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